A few years ago, on a weekend away with two friends, we came across an old library which had been converted into a small restaurant. It looked so cute and unique, we decided to check it out. Once we were seated, we saw that they were serving afternoon tea. What a fun idea! It ended up being such an amazing and memorable afternoon, we were reminiscing and laughing about it earlier this year. This trip down memory lane got me thinking, "How fun would it be to host an afternoon tea!"
I love a good themed party and this seemed so Downton Abbey I couldn't resist. I told a small group of friends to save the date for the first weekend of October and I set about researching how to host a proper tea. I learned the difference between afternoon tea and high tea. I cross-referenced the proper courses, order of the courses, and must-haves like biscuits and scones which simply cannot be served without clotted cream. I planned the menu and developed and tested recipes—my cucumber sandwich took four times to get just right. I even made strawberry jam!
In creating the menu, I drew inspiration from several sources. I wanted the sandwich course to be reminiscent of my travels around Europe. The cucumber sandwiches were inspired by my trip to London, but used mascarpone cheese instead of the usual cream cheese for a little Italian flare. My prosciutto, brie, and fig sandwiches had Italy at the base with a French twist. And lastly, my ham and butter sandwiches were reminiscent of my trip to Paris where my cousin and I had one for lunch almost every day.
The biscuit and scone course was 100% inspired by visits to my friend’s family orchard in Maine—my favorite place in the world second only to Italy. I went for plain biscuits and cinnamon scones accompanied by an assortment of toppings like the mandatory clotted cream, my homemade strawberry jam, and my whipped cinnamon-honey butter piped into delicate rosettes. Those tips and tricks I learned from working at a bakery for nearly 10 years still seem to come in handy!
For the sweets course, I reached out for a little help. Planning any party or event properly includes thinking through the execution on the day of the event. In order to manage my time, I decided to buy vanilla and chocolate macarons and delicate cakey madeleines. I accompanied these with Joanne Chang's rosemary shortbread cookies which I made.
As an afternoon tea wouldn't be complete without...well...the tea, I was very selective and thoughtful about what to serve. I had read that you absolutely cannot serve tea bags at a proper tea, so I took a trip to a specialty store for loose-leaf tea. After sniffing several hits of tea, I decided on a classic Earl Grey for the first two courses - accompanied by honey, sugar cubes (one lump or two?), and milk—for those who wanted their tea “white”—and a warm and cozy tea infused with spices for the sweets course.
To finish it all off, we had two bottles of Mascato d’Asti, a sparkling white wine, because no occasion is complete without something bubbly to celebrate friends!
To pull it all together with décor and ambiance, I wanted everything to be delicate, coordinated, and functional. I started with a floral tablecloth and coordinated all the colors from there. I used old tea tins to hold simple white hydrangeas because I think nothing is more elegant than fresh flowers. To be fancy, I used single-tiered cake stands for two of the three sandwiches and alternated them with a low platter in the middle. I didn't want to use anything too high so my guests could see each other across the table. For the scones and biscuits, my friend Roberta gave me an adorable vintage-looking, three-plated stand which worked perfectly! I used my glass domed cake stand and lower Victorian inspired dishes, again alternating heights, for the sweets. At a yard sale this past summer, I came across a set of vintage embroidered linen tea napkins and was so excited I bought them just for the tea party. I borrowed my mother’s china tea cups and bought the most adorable paper tea plates on Amazon (everyone thought were real!).
The day was a big success and so much fun. My friends appreciated getting together and a tea theme made the gathering seem that much more special. No promises yet, but I’m quite sure this was the first annual ladies afternoon tea. I can’t wait for next year and already have some new ideas in mind!